Th E Impact of Gender Expression on Female Athlete Endorser Eff Ectiveness

By Parker, Heidi M.; Mudrick, Michael T. et al. | Sport Marketing Quarterly, December 2018 | Go to article overview

Th E Impact of Gender Expression on Female Athlete Endorser Eff Ectiveness


Parker, Heidi M., Mudrick, Michael T., Fink, Janet S., Sport Marketing Quarterly


Introduction

Since the implementation of Title IX, the number of girls and women participating in athletics has increased substantially. Participation opportunities for girls and women at the varsity collegiate level is at an all-time high (Acosta & Carpenter, 2014) and numerous professional leagues have been created specifically for women to participate, including the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), National Pro Fastpitch (NPF), National Women's Soccer League (NWSL), Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA), Women's Tennis Association (WTA), as well as opportunities for women to participate professionally in sports such as surfing, volleyball, auto racing, and mixed martial arts. However, this growth in participation has not resulted in a similar increase in endorsement opportunities for female athletes (Badenhausen, 2013).

Given their popular status and wide spread familiarity, athletes are frequently used in endorsement campaigns (Boyd & Shank, 2004; Cunningham, Fink, & Kenix, 2008; Siemens, Smith, Fisher, & Jensen, 2008) and companies are willing to spend millions to associate themselves with an athlete (Erdogan, 1999). These partnerships are lucrative for athletes, often paying more than their player earnings. For instance, in 2016, professional golfer Phil Mickelson earned $2.9 million in winnings but earned $50 million in endorsement money (Badenhausen, 2016). Similarly, National Basketball Association (NBA) star LeBron James collected $22.9 million from his player contract in 2016, but earned $54 million from endorsements (Badenhausen, 2016). Yet, despite the increase in women participating at the highest levels of sport, female athletes are used far less frequently as endorsers and their contracts with companies are worth a fraction of those of their male counterparts (Badenhausen, 2013). For instance, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, the two female athletes with the highest earnings, made a combined $40 million in endorsement money in 2016 (Forbes, 2016). This is $20 million less than the single top endorsement earner in men's tennis, Roger Federer, who earned $60 million in endorsement money in 2016 (Badenhausen, 2016).

Researchers have explored the complexities faced by athletic women in society-in particular, women who appear muscular, less feminine, and/or participate in sports viewed as traditionally masculine (Kane, 1988; Krane, Choi, Baird, Aimar, & Kauer, 2004; Wachs, 2005). Many of the complexities center around female athletes who feel the need to appear appropriately feminine (i.e., thin, narrow shoulder, ample breast, defined waste, long hair, make-up, fitted clothing) and/ or act in more traditionally accepted feminine ways (i.e., graceful, aesthetically pleasing, and not strong or powerful) in order to meet societal expectations. The disconnect between society's feminine ideals and athletic ideals have led some female athletes to describe feeling as if they are living in two different worlds (Krane et al., 2004). In the sports arena, they are admired for their strength, musculature, and physical abilities. Yet, outside of the arena, those same traits are disparaged as women are judged on their traditional displays of femininity (Krane et al., 2004).

However, recent research has indicated that gender norms and perceptions of female athletes may be shifting. Mumcu, Lough, and Barnes (2016) found a younger demographic of fans believed female athletes to be more expert and skilled in their sport than an older demographic and found male and female WNBA fans to have progressive views of the roles of men and women in society (Mumcu & Lough, 2017). Additionally, research has shown female athletes can be effective endorsers (Charbonneau & Garland, 2006; Fink, Parker, Cunningham, & Cuneen 2012). While athlete attractiveness, expertise, and trustworthiness are all important components of endorser effectiveness (Ohanian, 1991), the fit between the endorser and the brand/product being endorsed has been shown to be most important to the success of the endorsement (Boyd & Shank, 2004; Fink et al. …

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